Everything Comes in Threes

Three, a complete and mystical number, is given in the scriptures as an exact number, whereas other numbers simply denote the meaning of many or few or very many, as we today speak of dozens. 

The Greek philosopher Pythagoras (circa 580–500 BCE) taught that three was the perfect number as it indicates beginning, middle, and end. This explains why the three-sided triangle, symbolic of deity, is found as a potent magico-religious emblem worldwide. Because of the sanctity linked with this emblem, it was thought to keep evil forces at bay. The ancient Greeks and Romans observed the number three in their sacred rites. When sacrifices were offered up to the gods, the altar was sprinkled three times with a laurel dipped in holy water; frankincense was taken from the censer with three fingers and sprinkled three times. 

Much of humankind’s existence is founded on a threefold basis: life consists of past, present, and future, having a beginning, middle, and end; humans comprise of body, mind, and spirit; the world consists of earth, sea, and air; nature embraces the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdom; the three Christian graces are faith, hope and love; and the three cardinal colours are blue, red, and yellow.

In classical mythology, Hecate had threefold power, Jove’s symbol was the triple thunderbolt, Neptune’s emblem was the sea trident, Pluto had a three-headed dog, and there were three Fates, three Furies, three Graces, and three Harpies. 

Two equilateral triangles, one imposed on the other, form the hexagram used in European magic to master spirits and to banish evil. The hexagram is a well-known magical sign found in almost every part of the world. Persian Zoroastrian tradition used this symbol to depict the forces of good and evil battling for supremacy. The term ‘hexagram’ is derived from hex, the Greek term for ‘six’. The hexagram has been the subject of many misconceptions, and various explanations exist about its symbolism. The triangle pointing upwards was believed by some to represent the forces of light and goodness, whereas the triangle pointing downwards stood for evil and darkness opposing the powers of light. To others, it represented the hermetic principle of ‘as above, so below’ and symbolised the male principle (the triangle pointing up) and the female principle (the triangle pointing down). It was referred to in early times as the Seal of Solomon and has erroneously become known as the ‘Star of David’. However, the hexagram is not an indigenous symbol of Judaism and does not seem to have become distinctly identified with Jewry until after the seventeenth century. It was only formally adopted as an emblem by the first Zionist Congress in 1897 and was much later incorporated into Israel’s flag.

The deep-rooted traditional unity of the number three led to the firm belief that all good and bad things happen in threes. Therefore, ‘never two, but three’, is an adage most people have heard of. Accidents were believed to come in threes, especially breakages around the home. Deliberately smashing two relatively worthless items after the first breakage was suggested to protect more prized items from damage. Similarly, deaths were believed to come in threes. Magic formulas had to be repeated three times to be effective, and practically all magic and curative rituals had to be performed in threes or multiples of three.

Now, we continue to give ‘three cheers’ to success, speak of a ‘third time lucky’, and intone that ‘all things thrive at thrice’, implying that to be successful the third time means to flourish ever after.


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